Prepare ye the way of the Lord as it paves its path up the aisles of the main stage in the Theatre Building of the Community College of Baltimore County Essex Campus with Cockpit in Court’s production of Godspell. Celebrating its 44th season, the Stephen Schwartz musical kicks off the summer for the community theatre and preaches a message that is poignant now more so than ever in today’s world where hatred seems to be common place and violence is overlooked as a part of the daily routine. Directed by James Hunnicutt with Musical Direction by Nathan Scavilla, the story may preach the morals of the gospels but there is a larger sentiment to take away.
Much like America’s current state of affairs, there conceptual confusion abound in this production of Godspell. Director and Choreographer James Hunnicutt starts the show with a brilliant political tie-in for the philosophical debate even going so far as to have Costumer James J. Fasching outfit each of the ‘disciple’ characters in gray pressed politician-grade suits, representing how at their core all politicians are the same. The ensemble wheels about on podiums like speakers at a debate for this number; the whole opening sequence has tremendous potential and primes the audience for a politically relevant production of the show. But immediately after that number the political framework vanishes and is never heard from again. Further disjointed incidences occur among the design team as Fasching’s costumes collide with one another in a 70’s meets modern style, both threads of which feel estranged from the post-industrial neo-modern black-painted set, designed by Jason Randolph.
Hunnicutt fails to unify the various elements of the show into one cohesive production. Lighting Designer Helen Garcia-Alton delivers a sensational series of wild and crazy lights— everything from fast-moving gobos to projections and huge blinks of color— many of which give the numbers a rock-concert feel, but this does not gel with the remaining aesthetic or emotional attitude of the performance. Hunnicutt’s casting choices on the whole are questionable. Calling forth a plethora of young-faced, green performers to inspire a “revitalized modern” feel to the show on the whole seems innovative in theory but falls short in practice, particularly as the actor who plays Jesus looks far too young to be anyone’s teacher, though this could be completely intentional as some purported tales of Jesus portrayed him to be a rebellious youth blasting his preaching through the streets. Regardless of the intent, the overall concept falls into a muddle with the rest of the show’s lack of unity.
Where Hunnicutt does exceed without question is charging the show with energy for the dance routine. Serving as the show’s Choreographer alongside Co-Choreographer Danielle Sten-Guillermo, Hunnicutt finds a great deal of musical theatre moves to provide a jazzy flare to the performance. While the dancing is not always the cleanest or most synchronized in its execution, it is never hurting for lack of enthusiasm or energy. Sten-Guillermo and Hunnicutt do a solid job of creating a wide variety of routines to feature throughout the production, making sure that the cast is active and moving consistently throughout the show.
The ensemble feels as if they are still falling into step with one another when it comes to the telling of the parables and the humorous improvisations that are peppered throughout the show. This will tighten over the course of the run, no doubt, but at present feels somewhat unintentional and unfortunately distracts from the show’s overall momentum. Though this is not for a lack of interest and enthusiasm on the cast’s behalf. Filled with great big radiant balls of energy and an eagerness to have fun with the performance, all eight members of the ensemble appear to be enjoying themselves, especially when it comes to the funnier portions of the stories being exchanged among them.
Standout vocal performances are few among the group, though Musical Director Nathan Scavilla does a decent job at blending the ensemble together for the group portions of “We Beseech Thee” and “Light of the World.” The latter of the two features a poppy sounding Erin Sullivan, who gives the number her all and really amps up the joy to take the audience into intermission. Sullivan’s imitation of Ellen DeGeneres for one of the parables is also noteworthy for its humorous delivery. Kevin James Logan deserves a nod of praise for his rather striking rendition of “All Good Gifts” just before the act I finale. Logan performs in a trio at the top of the second act, “Learn Your Lessons Well (Reprise)” with Nicole Smith and Alyssa Bell, and this trio of harmonies is the best blend of voices featured in the show.
Samantha Ross brings an exciting element of physical movement to the production. Her singing voice is suited for “Turn Back, O Man,” but its her natural dancer’s ability that truly entices the audience, particularly when she’s out among the aisles playing with theatergoers in this song. Her voice, much like that of Sullivan’s, is easily recognizable in the larger ensemble numbers, holding some of the more complicated moments of vocal harmony together. With a tremendous fluidity, particularly when it comes to some of the more bounce-driven choreographic moves, Ross proves to be the show’s most excellent dancer.
Anna Steuerman astounds the audience with her vocal capabilities during her rendition of “By My Side.” The deep and moving quality with which she imbues the number is truly striking, stirring the heart and soul with genuine emotion. There is something haunting about the way she delivers this number. Steuerman also provides stunning backup vocal harmonies for Judas (Jake Zeranko) during “On the Willows” alongside Nicole Smith. Her overall approach to the parables is humorous, with an earnest understanding of comic delivery and timing.
Zeranko, whose unfortunate wardrobe selection leaves him looking a bit too emo-cliché for the role of the turncoat, does a fantastic job with the role. His cry of “Prepare Ye” is blasted as it ought to be from the back of the house and radiates with a resonance of resplendence as he marches to the stage. Playing opposite of Jesus (Ryan Slattery), Zerank0 goes head to head with his character foil in “All for the Best.” The staging of this number, which features Zeranko on one side of the elevated staircase platform and Slattery on the other, is one of the stronger blocking moments featured in the show. Slattery, who feels a bit too naïve in his portrayal of Jesus, does come through with a delicate voice, particularly for “Save the People.” This number, as well as Zeranko’s moving rendition of “On the Willows” and Steuerman’s “By My Side” are the performances that make the show worth watching.
Listen carefully to the lyrics of the songs the cast is singing as the message on the whole is an important one.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission
Godspell plays through June 26, 2016 at Cockpit in Court— on the main stage of the Theatre Building of the Community College of Baltimore County Essex Campus located at 7201 Rossville Boulevard in Rosedale, MD. For tickets please call the box office at (443) 840-2787 or purchase them online.